E. Ludwig Meritar 50mm f2.9 was the entry-level option for the Ihagee Exakta line of cameras and cost only 59 Deutschmarks back in 1959. For comparison, another standard Exakta lens – a Biotar 58mm f2 cost six times as much. Given it was considered a cheap lens at a time, I was not expecting too much from this lens.

Exakta 1959 Price List
1959 Exakta price list showing Ludwig Meritar in comparison to other lenses.

Nonetheless, I was still curious to try it because the E. Ludwig Meritar 50mm f2.9 has only three glass elements in a simple triplet design originating from 1893.

It was the first lens system that allowed elimination of most of the optical distortion or aberration at the outer edge of lenses. The cooke triplet is noted for being able to correct the Seidel aberrations. It is recognized as one of the most important objective designs in the field of photography. – Wikipedia 

This particular version has a red V mark, indicating that it is a coated lens. 

Opinions about this lens vary a lot from ‘worst lens ever’ to ‘quite good’. I suspect there is a lot of sample-to-sample variation in the quality of the lenses themselves, so being objective here is difficult. 

Cooke Triplet Diagram from Patent
Cooke Triplet Diagram from Patent

Details / History

Ernst Ludwig was an independent optics manufacturer from East Germany. They made predominantly low-priced lenses, of which the Meritar 50mm f2.9 is most well known and was made from 1949 until 1968.

E. Ludwig Meritar 50mm f2.9 specifications

Text: E. Ludwig Meritar 2,9/50 V
Mount: Exakta, M42
Focal length: 50mm
Aperture: f/2.9 – f/16
Aperture blades: 5
Minimum focus distance: 0.7 m
Front filter thread: 35.5mm
Size: 30mm x 56mm
Radioactive: No
Weight: 124g
Made in: East Germany
Optical design: Three elements in three groups (Cooke triplet)

Construction and Handling

E. Ludwig Meritar 50mm f2.9 is made of aluminium alloy and glass. However, it does not feel as refined as other Exakta lenses of the time. 

Due to the size and proximity of the focus and aperture rings, it is easy to confuse them.

I have noticed that because of the limited overall sharpness focus peaking is not as useful to indicate the focus areas, making it harder to take action shots. My dog moved from me far too many times before I could take a sharp photo of him. In contrast, Carl Zeiss Biotar 58mm f2 has a larger focus ring making it easier to focus.

Focusing distance is also rather long at 70cm. Therefore, close up shots are not possible without an extension tube. 

Front filter thread of 35.5mm is unusual and finding accessories for it is therefore difficult. 

E. Ludwig Meritar 50mm f2.9 Side view
E. Ludwig Meritar 50mm f2.9 Side view
E. Ludwig Meritar 50mm f2.9 Back view
E. Ludwig Meritar 50mm f2.9 Back view

Radioactivity

Like all lenses, this one did not escape my Geiger counter. Not surprisingly, it does not contain any expensive thorium elements. It may contain lanthanum glass elements, but my Geiger counter is not sensitive enough to detect these.

Price

While this lens is not exactly rare, it is not very common either. There are usually some on eBay, but watch out for the inflated prices, as some dealers try to profit.

It should cost between £25-£40 on eBay UK, or about €30-€50 on eBay Germany. Prices in the USA fluctuate between $50-60 on eBay USA

Compatibility / Adaptor

It took a while to find a decent Exakta to EOS RF adapter. The first one I tried was Pixco branded, but it did not fit lenses appropriately. Some lenses were loose while others would not rotate and fix into position. Mamiya lenses would refuse to mount at all because the shutter release pin was bumping against the adapter.

After further research, I bought the Kipon branded Exakta to EOS RF, and I can not recommend it enough. Kipon has nailed it! All lenses work well, snap into position and do not wobble. There are no clearance issues with the shutter release pin either. The adapter is well made from smooth quality metal and feels stable on the camera.

Image Quality

I managed to get more beautiful pictures than I expected to get from it during the time that I have been using it. It doesn’t compare to the more expensive lenses which are better in all objective metrics. However, in subjective terms – I do like the distinctive pictures taken with it.

E. Ludwig Meritar 50mm f2.9 is a bit more challenging to use and requires a little more thought to ensure it is sufficiently stopped down and not pointing into the sun. 

In terms of look, the photos do have a different feel. This lens will leave a signature on the images it produces. They will have a soft distorted outer frame most of the time, even stopped down. But at the same time a beautiful and acceptably sharp centre with enough detail.

Overall, it is a very hit and miss kind of lens, certainly not for everybody. 

F2.8 – Unsharp and hazy. Might be suitable for a specific look, but not much else.
F4-5.6 – Gets much sharper.
F8-F11 – Still not very sharp, as compared to Zeiss glass, but usable. Edges still soft.

Pros

  • Low price
  • Vintage looking photos
  • Usable when stopped down
  • Cooke triplet lens design

Cons

  • Inconvenient aperture and focus rings
  • Relatively soft, even stopped down
  • The minimum focus distance of 0.7m

Conclusion

I would rate this lens a 2 out of 5. I did expect it to be worse but was left surprised by how usable, albeit temperamental this lens is.  If you don’t want to spend too much and want to try an early lens design, then give this lens a try. 

Have you tried the E. Ludwig Meritar 50mm f2.9? What do you think about it?

Sample images

Sky and branches in Spring - Stopped down to f5.6
Stopped down to f5.6
Sky and tree branches in Spring
Stopped down to f5.6
Japanese Pear blossoms
Japanese Pear blossoms
Flowering trees
Spot the dog hiding in the background
Flowering tree branch
Stopped down to f5.6
Street view with houses and cars
E. Ludwig Meritar 50mm f2.9 – Not so sharp, but nicely contrasty
E. Ludwig Meritar 50mm f2.9 - Sun through the tree. showing the hazy look
Wide open at f2.9 – The hazy look
Sun through the tree
Stopped down to f4
Bright bush in the spring
Wide open at f2.9
E. Ludwig Meritar 50mm f2.9 - Wide open at f2.9 - Bokeh
Wide open at f2.9, at a minimum focus distance of 0.7m
Dog in the field
Stopped down to f5.6
Sunset on blooming tree
Stopped down to f4
First leaves of spring
At minimum focus distance
Sunset
The flare creates a distinctive blue dot.
Dog sleeping. Displaying high contrast of E. Ludwig Meritar 50mm f2.9
Very contrasty at f5.6
Nettles
Stopped down to f5.6

5 Replies to “E. Ludwig Meritar 50mm f2.9 Review”

  1. I bought one recently in varied lot of equipment. I think it gave quite good results in bright sunny conditions. It is fiddly to use I agree. The Steinhell Munchen Caspar it came with was very soft by comparison and was sold week. At best the Meritar looks nice and antique on camera of similar vintage.

  2. I have had one previously and due to a house clearout I lost it. However I have a replacement and I can say that I find it useful for portraiture. While not having a fair amount of sharpness. It fits the bill. Not really a lens for getting sharp pictures but it does an excellent job in other areas.

  3. Tenho 2 exemplares dessa lente e gosto muito do resultado vintage que ela entrega. Não acho que a nitidez no centro seja ruim, mas se existe deficiência pra alguns, acredito que seja muito bem compensado no conjunto da entrega.

    1. Google translate translation: “I have 2 copies of this lens and I really like the vintage result it delivers. I don’t think the sharpness in the center is bad, but if there is a deficiency for some, I believe it will be well compensated for in the delivery as a whole.”

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